Soap Opera Weekly: 10/8/09

I think Wednesday night is the perfect time for Fox’s GLEE. We all need a boost in the middle of week, and the Mckinley High gang is right there to offer some high-octane song-and-dance along with LOL lines. GLEE never fails to entertain me with its mixture of great music, vivid characters and raunchy comedy.

Even this week’s slightly sub-par episode was still better than most of the rest of what’s on the air. (Let’s face it, last week’s show, featuring that guest appearance by Kristin Chenoweth was a highlight of the fall season so far.) There were only two musical numbers this week, but they were doozies! The rest of the episode started to chip away at the harpy facade of Jessalyn Gilsig‘s Terri, hinting (but only hinting) at the humanity hidden (deep) below the surface. But at least Terri is an entertaining monster: Witness her obliviously handing out pseudoephedrine to the glee club while acting as school nurse. Terri’s jealousy of Will’s connection to mousy Emma really boosted the soap quotient. Terri and Ken teamed up to derail Will’s friendship with Emma so they could claim the pieces for themselves. Boorish slob Ken and doe-eyed germophobe Emma are a riot together. His marriage proposal and her acceptance with (hilarious) conditions was pure soap opera! So is Quinn and Finn struggle with her unwanted pregnancy. AS THE WORLD TURNS is doing practically the same storyline right now! Only without the singing. Maybe that’s what Liberty and co. need: a rousing rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin’.” I know I sure believe in GLEE!

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/29/09

The moment he first appeared on Tuesday, wriggling his eyebrows and asking Elizabeth, “Remember me?” Jonathan Jackson effortlessly reclaimed the role of Lucky. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Greg Vaughan‘s work as Lucky and not looking to disparage him at all — but I instantly liked Jackson. And maybe I was imagining it, but even perky Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth) seemed to have an extra glow about her and spring in her step as a jaunty Lucky declared, “I feel lucky tonight.”

Lucky’s thrust-and-parry with Luke carried more of an edge when played by Jackson and Tony Geary. Even the scene in which father and son lounged on a bench and growled at each other felt livelier because Jackson looked so dialed in and focused. I hope that concentration eventually translates to the character, and GH stops walking all over Lucky. The man is a detective, remember, yet he’s always the last one to know important things like, oh, say, his wife is screwing around on him. Stop making him a dupe. If Lucky can look different, why can’t GH look at him differently?

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/28/09

I have to give mad props to MAD MEN’s Jon Hamm for his moving confession scene in this week’s episode. Confronted with evidence of his past as “Dick Whitman,” a haggard Don fingered the fading photographs and finally talked about his childhood. Hamm was sedate, and there was a bitter tang of defeat in his voice, as if all his years of careful subterfuge were now wasted. (And maybe they were.) Viewers could see that dredging up the past was tearing Don up. But when Don recounted the story of his younger brother’s suicide, Hamm was simply brilliant. For years, Don has been haunted with guilt that he “failed” his sibling by not recognizing his cries for help, and Hamm showed every minute of that torment in his posture, gestures and weary tone. Hamm’s voice was choked with long-suppressed emotion as he admitted that he valued his new life as Betty’s husband more than his old identity, and could not risk his current family by reaching out to his troubled old one. (Yet he constantly risks that marriage with his philandering!) Hunched over and sobbing, Hamm never lost Don’s sense masculinity, even as he gave viewers a glimpse at the shattered man behind the cool facade. Don Draper, the man who can talk clients (and women) into anything, could not finagle his way out of this one, and in the process, left me practically speechless.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/22/09

I am really glad that GLEE is on the air, and that Fox has picked up the back nine, giving it a full season of 22 episodes.

GLEE is generating a lot of positive buzz and good ratings because the stories tend to be edgy and raunchy, often addressing the ugly realities of real teen issues like popularity, and sexual and religious identity. Sure, the cast looks politically correct (There’s a guy in a wheelchair, as well as various ethnic minorities!), but the way the kids are treated is so not PC. Artie’s (Kevin McHale) wheelchair was wedged into a portable toilet by “pranksters,” for example. This week’s episode, in which cool kids Finn (Cory Monteith) and Quinn (Dianna Agron) were knocked to the bottom of the social totem pole because of their association with glee club, was hilarious. From quarterback and head cheerleader to objects of ridicule and slushie attacks overnight!

Of course the songs are always a highlight, but I have to give special props to Puck’s (Mark Salling) rendition of “Sweet Caroline,” which was possibly better than Neil Diamond himself, and will make you forget every time you had to suffer through some drunken rendition of it at karaoke night. Will (Matthew Morrison, ex-Adam, ATWT) busted a move like Young MC, and Emma (HEROES’ Jayma Mays) finally got to strut her vocal stuff. I could have watched all night…

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/21/09

It looks like last night was my last time watching the rebooted MELROSE PLACE, because the clichés are so overwhelming that it feels like I’ve seen it all before.

Let’s start with Riley’s adventures in modeling. Designer Anton V. supposedly chose Riley as the…er, face of his his jeans because she’s real” and “not a model,” but then he dispatched her to a photo shoot where she was given the standard fantasy makeover that transformed her into a standard-issue model.Instead of “real,” Riley looked real fake, just like any other model. And why did Anton hire photojournalist Jo Reynolds to shoot a campaign that looks like every ad, ever. (The returning Daphne Zuniga has a nice gig over on ONE TREE HILL, so she probably didn’t need the work). When a half-naked Riley stormed off the set, it proved she has really big principles! But then again, Anton liked the photos (of course), so she’ll take the $10,000 anyway?

Perhaps Riley’s plot was a cliché for the same reason that her fiancé, Jonah, was dispatched to the famous Paramount Pictures lot to meet a megaproducer Andy, who “loved” everything about his film — and only wants to change everything! Oh, Hollywood, you’re all the same!

Which is the problem. Everything about this MP is more of the same. Apparently the-powers-that-be are banking on the target audience of preteen girls being so young they have no frame of reference for a nighttime soap beyond 90210, GOSSIP GIRL and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Well, the legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken famously noted, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” (He didn’t know from Nielsen ratings, though…)

Finally, I leave you with the laugh line of the night, courtesy of Colin Egglesfield’s Auggie: “Riley, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s kind of impossible to hate you.” Uh, no, it’s not. It’s actually quite easy to hate Riley. And her little show, too.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/14/09

I’ve been sort of watching THE GOOD WIFE; I have it on so I can listen and occasionally glance at it while doing other things, but my colleague Mala has really been stumping for it, so I made the effort to pay attention to last night’s episode — and was rewarded with an interesting story of suspected jury-tampering.

Alicia Florrick is the titular character; her state’s attorney husband was jailed following a public sex scandal, and Alicia was seen grimly “standing by her man” at his press conference. Star Julianna Margulies is a very appealing actress who imbues the wronged wife with an amiability that really works. The show’s premise is original, and Margulies runs with the character. Alicia shows more than a little vulnerability, but projects a facade of competence and dignity that keeps her from looking silly. The big question is obvious: How could she not know? Was she that oblivious? Was she just a stooge? Alicia asks herself those same probing questions with every home video and gift she reconsiders.

As a bonus, the-powers-that-be are able to find intriguing legal storylines to go with the interesting characters. Alicia has returned to her career as a lawyer and — surprise, surprise — she’s pretty darn good at it. Her compassion for the victims in cases is often the key to victory. (Gee, wonder where that comes from?) But the cases also take lots of legwork, and luckily Alicia meshes well with “in house” investigator Kalinda Sharma (portrayed by British actress Archie Panjabi). Kalinda boasts a more streetwise, edgy persona. Alicia also works with Cary, despite the fact that actor Matt Czuchry (ex-Logan, GILMORE GIRLS) looks too young to be a law student, let alone a litigator. Margulies seems to have a real connection with LAW & ORDER vet Chris Noth, who plays her crooked, incarcerated hubby Peter. (Hey, what’s not to like about SEX AND THE CITY’s Big and ER’s Carol Hathaway hooking up?) I like that Peter is still in the picture as a kind of Yoda peddling a jaded insider’s view of the way the game is really played. Alicia resists the Dark Side because she wants to be…y’know, good.

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/13/09

I was all set to drop HEROES when, just in the nick of time, this week’s episode turned out to be pretty good.

If HEROES was in the public consciousness at all, it was because this episode featured Hayden Panettiere‘s Claire getting kissed by her roommate Gretchen (played by CALIFORNICATION’s Madeline Zima). So that happened — but in the context of the story, it was actually rather creepy, because Gretchen had been exhibiting stalkerish behavior, and her explanation was that she’s “crushing” on Claire. I’m going to keep an eye on this plotline and see where they take it.

The story that made this week’s episode memorable concerned Peter and Emma bonding when he absorbs her synesthesia power, enabling him to see sound as light. Ironically, this low-key plot contrivance actually made the show look more like a comic book than all the previous super-powered battles combined. The ability to see sounds aped the visual language of a comic book, where sound is represented by wavy vibration lines or onomatopoeia. HEROES showed Emma and Peter perceiving sound as a cloud of multicolored lights, and the two characters were able to connect on a deep (and quiet!) level. (Emma’s power reminds me of X-Men’s Dazzler, but she converts sound into light.) I definitely want to see where this relationship goes.

Meanwhile, Sylar was in Baltimore, getting the third degree from Ghostbusters‘ Winston Zeddemore — I mean, Ernie Hudson. Hudson played Warden Glynn on OZ, which was set in Baltimore. Sylar decided to kidnap his pretty therapist with the odd accent, just like Bruce Willis did in 12 Monkeys (which was also set in Baltimore). That led to the reveal that the Sullivan Brothers carnival can literally travel from place to place. Talk about a roadshow!

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Soap Opera Weekly: 10/6/09

The unquestioned hero of HEROES right now is consulting producer Bryan Fuller, who wrote this week’s episode, “Acceptance.” Fuller’s superpower appears to be the ability to grasp these characters and express what makes them great. He has a particular faculty for Noah/H.R.G. and Claire. Fuller wrote the legendary “Company Man” episode back in season one, which crystallized the previously mysterious H.R.G. and arguably made HEROES the breakout hit it (briefly) became. Fuller also deftly emphasizes the camaraderie of Hiro and Ando, making the pair believable buddies. In fact, I think Fuller has a firmer grip on these characters than even creator Tim Kring. (Fuller has imagination to spare: He also created WONDERFALLS and was an executive producer on PUSHING DAISIES.) I never like Tracy except in the stories Fuller has written (see “Cold Snap”). And he also delivered us from the ill-advised Sylar-in-Nathan-form plotline. Does this mean fans will not get to see Adrian Pasdar die in a season finale for once?

This week, I was initially on the fence as to whether I would even watch HEROES. The episode took a little time to build steam, so I was seriously considering abandoning it in favor of the Packers/Vikings football game. But then, something clicked — right around the time Noah and Claire were sharing bowls of cereal and discussing the possible application of bag-and-tag skills to selling lumber. That did it; I was roped back in. H.R.G. may be an ultracompetent field agent, but he’s an all-too-human fish-out-of-water (er…so to speak) on the home front. I don’t want to minimize the contributions of Jack Coleman here; when Noah told Peter that he just didn’t have it in him to get tangled up in another adventure, I really believed him. Coleman meshes especially well with Hayden Panettiere, and H.R.G.’s scenes with his “Claire Bear” always feel like the most realistic relationship on the show (followed by Hiro/Ando). But Fuller is not merely the master of human scenes; he also excels at thinking through the implications of superpowers. Just because Hiro can travel back in time does not mean he can save a man from himself, as Hiro’s funny/sad encounters with the hapless, hopeless Tadashi proved. I hope HEROES does not let Fuller escape.

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